The original College was the lower two floors of the present Old Quadrangle, with the Hall and Tower at their present heights. The Chapel was in the south west corner, the site of the present Senior Common Room, and opposite was the Library, in the area now behind the sundial. The Principal's Lodgings occupied most of the east side, including the Tower. Ornamented Tudor chimneys adorned the roof at intervals.

The old quadOld Quad in the early 1890s. More photographers have taken this view than any other of the College.

By the seventeenth century more space was needed. In an agreement of November 1635 Chrysostom Parks, a carpenter, undertook to put dormer windows on either side of the Hall 'like unto the windowes on the east, west, and north sides of the quadrangle'. Clearly at this stage the rest of the quadrangle was complete. This extension to a third floor has generally been assumed to be the brain-child of Samuel Radcliffe (Principal 1614-1648), but we only have proof of this for the south side. And as the College built upwards to accommodate its students, so it burrowed downwards to provide storage; several new cellars were dug during the seventeenth century. The opening of the new Library in about 1664 and the consecration of the new Chapel in 1666 made more space available in Old Quad.

The sundial on the north side of Old Quad is generally dated to 1719. In that year Thomas Wildgoss was paid £7 7s 'for painting and Guilding the Diall' and Thomas Cookeon received 7s 6d 'for drawing the Lines of the Dial'. George Cooke supplied the gnomon, the pin to cast the shadow; his bill charges 15s 'for a Noman to Sun Dial.' However, earlier descriptions of College rooms ('By ye Diall' in the 1670s and 1680s) show that this was not the first sundial.

 Statue known as 'Cain and Abel'

Tourists are often told that it takes centuries to create a College lawn, but in the seventeenth century the lawn was not there at all. David Loggan's engraving of 1674 shows hedges and trees in the style of a knot garden, surrounded by a low ornamental wall. In October 1727 all this was removed, and Thomas Hearne (1678-1735) recorded the fact with great indignation. He said that the garden was 'the only one of that kind then remaining in Oxford' and that it 'was a delightful & pleasant Shade in Summer Time. This is done purely to turn it into a Grass Plot, & to erect some silly Statue there'. The silly statue in question was known in the College from the beginning as 'Cain and Abel', although subsequently it was identified as a copy of a work by John of Bologna depicting Samson slaying a Philistine; a version in marble can still be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The College's copy was purchased in London and brought to Oxford by barge. It was finally removed in 1881. It had proved a great temptation to the students and had been painted or otherwise adorned on many occasions.

When the Principal moved to a house on the High Street in 1771 space was freed for the ever increasing numbers. A notebook records that 'the Old Lodge [the Principal's Lodgings] was divided and fitted up for the Reception of Fellows & others', and an Old Lodge staircase first appears in the Room books at the beginning of 1773. In 1958 the Principal returned to the Old Quadrangle, but to much smaller quarters than before, concentrated on the north side of the Tower.

Famous Brasenose Names

More information on historical figures connected to Brasenose

College buildings

An architectural history of our buildings